‘Trust me, I’m from the pharmaceutical industry?’
A number of countries across the world insist that payments between pharma and healthcare professionals (HCPs) are made public. One of the most recent countries to adopt such a system, albeit voluntary, was the UK last year.
On 30 June the UK’s second annual list of payments to doctors, pharmacists and nurses will go live. The thinking behind the initiative is clear: if the industry is transparent about HCP payments, it will help improve trust in what it does. Herein lies the all-important question, does transparency alone deliver trust? If not, what more can the industry do?
The voluntary nature of the initiative inevitably comes with challenges. When the public list was first launched, 69% of HCPs said they would disclose their relationships with pharma. However, it’s now thought only 55% of HCPs actually revealed the payments they received.
Why would this be? It may have something to do with the fact that pharma is second only to banking in industries mistrusted by the public, with 80% of people thinking companies put profit before patients. Of course, it may be that the highest earning doctors just don’t want their payments to be made public, but it seems likely that scores of HCPs simply don’t want to be tainted with what they see as the poor public image of the industry.
So how can the industry improve trust in what it does, and why isn’t transparency alone enough to improve its reputation? Seasoned communicators know that when it comes to reputation, behaviour is everything. It is not enough to tell people to trust you, you need to earn that trust through your actions. Our role as communicators is to highlight these behaviours and actions.
In the case of HCP payments, audiences need to understand why payments are made, offering a great opportunity to discuss the world-class research used to develop breakthrough medicines, and the medical education helping patients benefit from best practice. It also enables conversations about the strict, self-imposed compliance codes and legal regulatory rules that underpin these and which insist on the highest levels of integrity.
The publication of payments is not a silver bullet for increased reputation or trust, but it is the latest in a series of behaviours to be explained, promoted and championed. As communicators, we all have a duty to share this and other positive stories about our life-changing industry with the wider world. By not doing so, we risk allowing the occasional negative events to fill the vacuum and become perceived as normal.
This article was originally published in PMLive.